On January 20, 2021, I watched the inauguration of President Biden and Vice-President Harris with eyes rimmed with tears. I hadn’t expected that response, but as more layers came into my awareness, I found myself getting more emotional. I thought about all of the tragedy that President Biden had suffered, losing his first wife and two of his children, and his perseverance in the face of such devastating loss. I watched Vice-President Harris’ family walk in and was struck at how there were now two blended families in the highest role of our government. What a beautiful picture!
But mostly I found pride and emotion in the expanding of horizons for all of the disenfranchised people that watched. An African-American, Asian-American woman took an oath for the vice-presidency of the United States. Those three qualifiers were all firsts and symbolized to millions of people around the country that there is no limit to what they can achieve, no matter what systemic racism, white nationalists, ardent segregationists, or anyone else may say.
As a white father of African-American sons, I felt immense pride welling up in me watching the diversity of race and gender that was evident on the steps of the US Capitol building, knowing that I could point to any number of those people and tell my sons, “Look, they look like you and you can do this too!”
And then 22-year-old Amanda Gorman stepped to the podium, full of poise and dignity that belied her years. Raised by a single mom and descended from slaves, Amanda’s poem “The Hill We Climb” was unspeakably powerful, not only for its verse, but also for the beauty with which she recited it. It concludes with the following:
“When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
The image of a new dawn blooming as it illuminates a new horizon captures perfectly the emotions and longing I felt that day. My sons, and millions of other brown and black girls and boys, can now look out at the light and be brave enough to not only see it, but to be it as well. Certainly, there are obstacles and pitfalls to be overcome, but the path has been blazed and the ceiling has been shattered.
Berkeley School of Theology stands as an institution committed to seeing the new dawn bloom. Building Communities of Christian hope, justice, and reconciliation and equipping the leaders of those communities as pastors and artists and businesspeople and chefs and everything in between, to then send them out as messengers of that light—this is our way of moving our students out of the shade and into the light. As day comes, we work to form that more perfect union, to free the blooming dawn.